Op/Ed: Actually, Please Don’t Divest from Fossil Fuels

Stop jumping the gun on fossil fuels and focus on developing alternatives.

AU students are not alone in asking to divest from fossil fuels. It’s happening across the country, as students demand that their universities stop investing endowment funds in fossil fuel companies. I have no doubt that my classmates who will gather on the quad on Nov. 21 to demand divestment are well intentioned. 

But unfortunately, it’s not intentions that matter but outcomes. Divesting from fossil fuels, both at a university and a national scale, will have harmful effects that far outweigh any of the proposed tenuous benefits.

The endowment is invested in maximizing its return, which directly helps us as students, and not on what makes us feel good. Still, the divestment movement has some serious ramifications beyond the collegiate level. 

As you read this on your iPhone, eat an organic avocado grown in California and buy a plane ticket home for winter break, I urge you to think about what a world without fossil fuel use would mean. Energy is embedded in virtually everything we do and consume, from life-saving drugs to our clothing. Because the divestment movement is not just about how colleges spend their money, it is about taking down the enormous carbon fuel industry. This would be a different story if a viable option to fossil fuels existed that could handle all the world’s needs. But sadly we are not there yet. 

And this isn’t just about getting to keep your iPhone. Lower-income households spend almost a quarter of their income on energy. Cutting out fossil fuels would cause energy prices to soar, punishing the poor the most. 

Professor Rossiter pointed out many of the problems divestment would cause in his recent column. The number one air pollution problem in developing countries is indoor air pollution from burning dung and other biomass in homes, something that primarily affects women and children. Switching to electricity generated outside the home using natural gas or even coal dramatically improves the lives of the world’s poor. 

As food and fuel prices rise, it is not the wealthy oil companies you should be thinking about, but the minimum wage worker struggling to pay his energy bill. Instead of making everything more expensive, including all of our living expenses and tax burdens, we should encourage competition to develop the desired technology. Energy alternatives do not come from government sanctions on oil but from technological innovation in the private sector. Grants and prizes for successful technologies always work better than governments randomly picking winners and losers in the energy industry. 

Developing alternative and clean energy are great goals and ones I wholeheartedly support. But raising the cost of living and lowering living standards for all of us, including the world’s poor, is not the answer. Stop jumping the gun on fossil fuels and focus on developing alternatives. 

Julia Morriss is a senior in the School of Public Affairs.

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